Investigating Corporal Punishment as Domestic Violence

The Right of a Parent to Use Proper and Reasonable Discipline

July 18, 1998

Can a parent be charged with domestic violence for administering corporal punishment to his child? Under Ohio's domestic violence statute, no person shall knowingly cause or attempt to cause physical harm to a family or household member. Physical harm has been defined as any injury, illness or other physiological impairment regardless of its gravity or duration.

But the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that nothing in the domestic violence statute prevents a parent from properly disciplining his or her child. The only prohibition is that a parent may not cause "physical harm" as that term is defined. "Physical harm" is defined as "any injury." "Injury" is defined as the invasion of legally protected interest of another. A child does not have any legally protected interest which is invaded by proper and reasonable parental discipline.

The Supreme Court ruled that proper and reasonable parental discipline can be advanced by a parent as an affirmative defense to a charge of domestic violence. An affirmative defense is one which is "peculiarly within the knowledge of the accused." The burden is on the defendant to establish this defense by a preponderance of evidence.

In light of this decision, the right of parents to use corporal punishment when disciplining their children has not been abolished by the state's domestic violence statute. Rather, parents can employ proper and reasonable discipline without being convicted of domestic violence.

In determining whether a parent has employed "proper and reasonable discipline", an investigator interviewing the victim, the victim's family and the suspect should explore the following factors:

You can download online summaries of literature on this topic from the National Clearing House on Child Abuse and Neglect Information.

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